Mavericks at Work: Why the most original minds in business win

Reviewed by: 
William C Taylor and Polly LaBarre
William Morrow/Harper Collins
Alistair Schofield, Managing Director, Extensor Limited

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The notion that mavericks succeed is not a new one, after all, since by definition a maverick is doing something different to the norm, it is not surprising that both their success or failure will be more dramatic than the norm.  What makes this book interesting is that it looks at what the successful mavericks have done differently with a view to providing thoughts and ideas for everyone else.

It begins with the contention that the only way to succeed in the modern world is to rethink the whole logic of how your business gets done – from strategy, to marketing, to human resources, to the workplace environment, and suggests that the more unorthodox you are, the better.

While this is a nice eye-catching theme, it is not a premise that I readily agree with.  In my opinion, there is very little that is truly new in life, there are however many things that have been forgotten.  What certainly is different is the pace with which change happens, and it is in this regard where the more open, challenging and democratic approach of many of the ‘mavericks’ provides lessons we can learn from.

For example, one example is of Dan Wieden, the co-founder of the advertising agency Wielden + Kennedy and the man credited with creating Nike’s hallmark slogan “Just do it.”  Although Wielden is a hugely successful businessman with over 600 staff, his attitude is that he is anything but the brightest person in the room.  He describes his role as being to “walk in stupid every day”.  This attitude helps both him and his staff retain an open mind and stay attuned to changes and innovations that they might otherwise miss.

The book is packed full of anecdotes like this that make it both informative as well as entertaining.

Some of the key points that emerge from the book are as follows:

There’s always a demand for something distinctive.  To make the point they provide examples of products that have been successfully launched into already crowded markets – such as a new bank or a new soda drink.

Not all customers are the same.  The book makes big play of an organisation’s ability to both know their customers and selectively target them with the appropriate marketing messages, products and service.

Brand is culture, culture is brand.  For too long organisations have been duplicitous in saying one thing while doing another.  In the current climate such organisations are being found out.  The book therefore argues that to succeed, you really do have to walk the talk and ensure that the organisation’s behaviour is 100% compatible with the image it wishes to portray.

Advertising to customers is not the same as connecting with customers.  The customers of the most successful companies are not just customers, they are also advocates whose goals and ambitions match the mission and purpose of the organisation.  For example, many customers of Google see it as an organisation that is challenging convention and fighting against the might of Microsoft and the other large IT corporations.  This, despite the fact that Google is now itself a large IT corporation.

Seeing employees as the most important asset.  This goes beyond merely valuing employees, it is breaking with the tradition of “top-down” management and democratising the workplace.  Obviously, the only way in which this does not become anarchy is by ensuring that all employees understand and share a commitment to the organisation’s goals and purpose.

Mavericks at Work is an informative, fun and interesting book.  It is packed full of interesting anecdotes and ideas that are likely to stimulate thoughts and ideas in your own mind.  My only word of caution is that I feel the authors are assuming that wacky ideas and success equate to cause and effect, whereas I would prefer to describe it as being more along the lines of ‘the most successful companies are also the ones who engage all of their staff in constantly seeking to innovate, change and improve’.

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